Hunger suddenly strikes. You need food, and you need it now. You rummage for that long-lost candy bar buried somewhere in your desk—anything to get a sugar fix.
That rapid rise in blood glucose, along with the attendant release of the “feel-good” hormone serotonin, may make you feel better in the short term, but when your glucose levels soon nosedive, you’ll return to your low-serotonin state—a prime candidate for yet more sugar craving.
If you find yourself stuck in this high-low loop—a cycle that can lead to diabetes-related conditions like insulin resistance and insulin insensitivity—take heart, the ayurvedic herb gurmar (Gymnema sylvestre) can break you free.
The leaves of this woody climbing plant have been used in India for more than 2,000 years to treat “honey urine” (diabetes) or high blood sugar levels, says Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, registered herbalist and author of The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs. “In my practice, I’ve experienced excellent results using gurmar to lower and maintain normalized blood sugar levels,” he says, “and I’ve seen my clients with type-2 diabetes lower or, in some cases, even eliminate the need for oral hypoglycemic medicines or insulin.”
No one knows exactly how the herb accomplishes this, says Khalsa, but current evidence points to a trio of possible mechanisms. Gurmar may increase insulin secretion from pancreatic beta cells, heighten overall cell sensitivity to insulin, and/or decrease the gut’s glucose or lipid absorption.
A number of positive clinical studies support gurmar’s effectiveness. In one, published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, University of Madras researchers gave 400 mg a day of a water-soluble extract of gurmar leaves to 22 type-2 diabetic participants for 18 to 20 months. “Gurmar showed the potential to help pancreatic repair, raising the output of insulin to normal levels,” reports Khalsa.
In his practice, Khalsa typically recommends taking the raw, dried leaf in capsule form in a wide range of dosages (15 mg to 500 grams per day), depending on the individual’s needs. He suggests starting with a low dose and increasing it gradually until serum glucose reaches normal range. Keep in mind that it may take several months of taking gurmar to see results.
Of course, if diagnosed with diabetes, always consult your healthcare practitioner before making any changes to your medication.
And what about those sugar cravings? When placed directly on the tongue, gurmar alters the taste of sugar from sweet to bitter by depressing the tongue’s “sweet” receptors. The effect only lasts 15 minutes, Khalsa says—but that’s just enough time to find some complex carbs or other low-glycemic food to substitute for that afternoon Snickers.
By Vonalda M. Utterback, CN